By Maria Grzywa —
Approximately two weeks ago, University of Wisconsin–Stout administration received notice that a policy must be put in place to limit the hours students work on campus. Due to the Affordable Care Act, federal law states that anyone working 30 hours or more is eligible to receive health care benefits from their employer. Institutions that do not offer health care to individuals working 30+ hours will be charged a $2000 fine per employee that works over 30 hours.
Since Stout is a public institution offering on-campus jobs to students, it must abide by the Affordable Care Act. However, the complexity of the UW System creates problems for universities to adhere to the Affordable Care Act. Current Wisconsin Statute does not allow the UW System to pay health benefits for students.
“Even if students worked beyond the hour cap, the university can’t give them benefits. Stout would automatically have to pay the fine,” said Vice Chancellor Phil Lyons. “Right now state law is conflicting with federal law.”
Additionally, Stout is one of many universities under the umbrella of the UW–System. Not only does Stout administration have to worry about accounting for Stout students’ payroll hours, but needs to take into account the entire UW–System, staff, faculty, administration and students. Stout must count employees system wide.
“Right now a solution the UW System is considering is limiting the amount of hours a student can work during an academic term to 25 hours per week,” said Lyons. The hour limit is currently set at 25 so that there is a five hour buffer before fees are distributed for working over the federal limit and not receiving benefits.
Human Resources and Legal Counsel for the UW–System have been developing this policy. “Each campus was offered a copy of the draft and we have a limited time period to respond,” said Scott Griesbach, executive director of Student Life Services.
Although this policy adheres to federal and state laws, resolves the issue of paying the $2000 fine for students working over 30 hours and allows students to keep their working positions on campus, it comes with complications.
“This [policy] will affect any student who typically works more than 25 hours per week and will also affect any student currently paid a stipend or lump sum,” said Griesbach.
Students getting paid through stipends and not on an hourly rate, will either need to start tracking hours or Stout will have to find a different method for payment.
The difficulty with counting hours is what can be defined as “on the clock” or not. “This gets tricky for positions such as the Stoutonia, SSA executives, Resident Assistants, etc. because of the uncertainty and unpredictability of those duties for those positions,” said Griesbach.
“A potential solution to the lump-sum stipend would be scholarships,” said Lyons. Hypothetically, students who are currently getting paid with stipends would receive scholarships at the very beginning of the term, directly deposited into their university account.
This solution unfortunately brings more complications. One of those being, athletes are not allowed to receive leadership scholarships because it is against WIAA regulations. Additionally, providing students with scholarships instead of paychecks only provides them with tuition help. This does not help students working to receive paychecks for outside expenses, such as rent, food, gas, etc.
Vice Chancellor Lyons brought up the question, how do we define an academic term? If summer is included in this policy, in which classes are still held on campus and thus contributing to summer being an academic term, students will be unable to work full time. “Not allowing students to work full time on campus during the summer will affect a lot of students and jobs here at Stout,” said Lyons.
Dining Services met with staff to discuss how this policy would potentially affect dining employees. “If we could not offer more than 25 hours during the summer academic term, students would need jobs elsewhere,” said Director of Dining Service Ann Thies.
Another complication with the proposed policy is students working multiple jobs. “Various [employers] on campus don’t communicate how many hours students are working to other employers,” said Lyons. “This could cause students to go over the hour limit unknowingly.”
Students working over 25 hours on campus will be forced to make some decisions. In regards to Dining Services, “Some of them would have to get a second job, some would quit if they could find a job with adequate hours elsewhere and some would find a way to make it work,” said Thies.
Stout employers will also be forced to make some decisions about hiring. On-campus jobs provide students with a source of income, job experience, training and skill development in specific areas. “Student employees also provide the campus with an excellent workforce,” said Griesbach. “This policy will impact our ability to do that as effectively and efficiently as we currently do.”
Stout’s policy regarding the Affordable Care Act was supposed to be in place at the beginning of this academic year. However, the deadline has now been pushed to January. “UW–Stout just learned about [the policy] within the last couple of weeks,” said Lyons.
There is not much time to resolve the issues with the policy. “Starting in January 2016, the UW–System needs to show a 95 percent compliance with offering healthcare to any employee working 30 hours or more per week,” said Griesbach. “Higher Education has asked for an exemption from the federal government, but so far it has not been granted.”
Administration is faced with many challenges ahead, deciding how to manage students’ working hours in accordance with federal and state law. Right now, only proposals are being made and discussed. A final policy will be in place come January. Any questions or concerns regarding the proposed policy can be directed to Kristi Krimpelbein, director of Human Resources, at firstname.lastname@example.org until Oct. 16.